NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Ben Koyack made 152 receptions in his high school football career, but chances are he will remember his sixth career reception at Notre Dame more than any other catch he has had. The junior tight end has mostly been a big-bodied blocker this season and in his previous two years in college, but his sixth career reception last Saturday night against Arizona State went 19 yards for Koyack's first career touchdown.
"I think there was a flood from the boundary and (I) just ran an out route," Koyack recalled of the play. "The defender fell down from what I saw. It just made it easier for me."
That defender was 226-pound linebacker Salamo Fiso. Watching the game live, Koyack, who is listed at 261 pounds, appeared to get the better of the Sun Devil redshirt freshman physically.
"He gave me a pretty good re-route," Koyack said of Fiso. "But we were watching on film and I kind of gave him a step. I think he was trying to run with me and he just didn't catch his feet as I broke out."
With Fiso in his rear view mirror, Koyack then turned to catch the Tommy Rees pass that was heading in his direction. What he saw after making the catch, his first since last Nov. 17 against Wake Forest, made his eyes open wide.
"There was 10 yards of open field," Koyack said of the moment after he caught the ball. "(I) just turned and tried to make a play."
"I was very surprised," he continued of the seconds before scoring his first touchdown. "I turned my head and I was kind of expecting to see a guy right there, so when there wasn't I just tried to get in there as fast as possible."
Koyack's touchdown put the Irish up 7-6 in the second quarter. Troy Niklas later caught a 21-yard touchdown pass to give two Fighting Irish tight ends touchdown catches in the same for the first time in seven years.
The Oil City, PA native came to Notre Dame rated by some as the best tight end in the nation, but he has been more the complementary tight end to first Tyler Eifert and now Niklas in his time with the Irish.
"It was definitely an adjustment I had to make," Koyack said. "But it was an adjustment worth making to get on the field and get those opportunities."
Saturday's 37-34 win over the Sun Devils also marked Koyack's second start of the season. That equals the number of starts he has had in his freshman and sophomore seasons combined. Blocking has been Koyack's biggest role in multiple facets and he says he takes the role seriously.
"They put a lot of responsibility out there and it's good to have," Koyack said. "One of our roles for our H guy is to block a lot, so that's what I do, so when (coach Kelly) gives me an opportunity I try to make the most out of it, whether it's catching the ball or blocking."
"It's something definitely we need out of our number two guy out there," Koyack continued. "When they're asking me to go out there and make those blocks I try to make the most of it and succeed with every opportunity they've given me."
Not every tight end can line up all over the field and haul-in 140 receptions and Koyack realizes that. He also says it takes the right make up to be a good blocker.
"Having that mental attitude that you (have to) put your head on someone else's," said Koyack. "You've gotta bang helmets with someone else (and) you've gotta get in there and make a tough block. Sometimes it's tough getting in there and keeping all your technique while keeping that mental attitude. It's something that when we need to get it done I try my hardest."
Koyack has so taken to his role as a blocker that blocking is nearly all he talked about after Tuesday's practice during Notre Dame's bye week. His response when asked what area he has improved in the most since the start of training camp was almost predictable.
"I would say my blocking," said Koyack. "I've had a lot of tough times and I've been trying to work and coach has been staying with me. He's been putting some trust in me, so I've been trying my hardest to keep getting myself the confidence to keep going out there and keep making the blocks that they're asking me to do."
If nothing else, the big man knows his role.